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If there’s one image that’s come to symbolize Boston’s delirious, improbable 2004 playoff run, it’s Curt Schilling’s blood-stained sock. Yes, there’s Dave Roberts and The Steal and there’s Foulke flipping to Mientkiewicz for the out and there’s Kevin Millar and the Jack Daniels and Johnny Damon’s beard and “Idiots” rallying cry. But with JD gone to the Yankees and Mientkiewicz hoarding the winning ball and Dave Roberts having sprinted off into the sunset and Millar toiling away in obscurity (aka Baltimore) and Foulke having yakked (and sucked) his way out of a job, the blooms have come off those respective roses. But the lustre never wavered on Curt Schilling’s bloody sock.

The Ultimate Red Sock

It seems like only yesterday….[fade out]

After pitching with an injured ankle and getting rocked in Game 1 of the ALCS, Schilling has an experimental surgery done on the ankle before his next appearance in Game 6. An injured tendon will be sutured in place, theoretically allowing Curt to pitch. The Red Sox have already managed to prolong the series after snatching two come-from-behind, extra-innings games from the Yankees in Fenway Park. But the night of Game 6, the Sox are back in enemy territory. Schilling takes the mound. Red Sox Nation takes a collective inhale, and waits. But as we wait and watch, Schilling dominates the Yankee lineup one deliberate pitch at after another. Cameras zoom in on his injured ankle, and we see blood soaking through the white cotton. Blood. The man was beating the New York Yankees in Yankee Stadium with nothing left in the tank but sheer force of will. It’s the first time the series that the Red Sox haven’t had to battle back in the late innings against long odds (and Mariano Rivera). It breaks New York’s spirit. By the next night, the Red Sox are cruising to victory and the World Series, where they sweep the Cardinals with ease. Schilling’s sock from Game 2 in that series, also bloodstained, is later enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

[Fade in]….and then this happens.

From the AP: On Wednesday, Baltimore announcer Gary Thorne said during his broadcast of the Red Sox-Orioles game that Boston backup catcher Doug Mirabelli admitted it was a hoax. “It was painted,” Thorne said. “Doug Mirabelli confessed up to it after. It was all for PR.”

We in Boston reacted with scorn. Who is this jackass and what is he saying about Our Sock? Doug Mirabelli indignantly denied saying any such thing. The Sox brass took to the airwaves in rage, as Curt’s former teammates also rushed to his defense:

Red Sox president Larry Lucchino said the team “would not dignify (Thorne’s) insinuations with extensive comment … other than to remind everyone that we remain steadfastly proud of the courageous efforts by a seriously injured Curt Schilling — efforts that helped lead the Red Sox to the 2004 World Series championship.”

Baltimore’s Kevin Millar, who played for the 2004 Red Sox, said, “It was 100 percent blood, no doubt about it. Why are we even talking about this?”

Los Angeles Angels shortstop Orlando Cabrera, who played on Boston’s World Series team, also came to Schilling’s defense.

“I was actually in the training room when he was getting the sutures, so I don’t see no reason why he would have to paint blood on his sock,” Cabrera said Thursday. “I don’t know why people want to believe that it wasn’t blood.”

The AP even contacted some learned experts. Sox doc Bill Morgan and HOF spokesman Jeff Idelson both went on the record defending His Sockness:

“Obviously, we put sutures in Curt Schilling’s ankle right before he went out to pitch in a professional-level baseball game,” Morgan said in a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press. “Sutures will pull with movement, and we completely expected a certain amount of blood to ooze from the wound. Socks are like sponges, and even a small amount of blood can soak a sock.”

[...]

“We have no reason to doubt Curt, who has a profound respect for the history of the game and is cognizant of his role as a history maker,” Hall spokesman Jeff Idelson said. “The stain on the sock is now brown, which is what happens to blood over time.”

Forced to eat his words, evil Orioles announcer Gary Thorne apologized and admitted he must’ve misunderstood Mirabelli. Dougie, for his part, still seems baffled at how Thorne could have gotten the wrong end of the stick in the first place. Thorne claims that the backup catcher was, perhaps, being sarcastic. Mirabelli claims there wasn’t anything to be sarcastic about; all he said, when asked about the sock, was, “Yeah, we got a lot of publicity out of that.” Somehow in Thorne’s twisted mind, this became, “Yeah, it was paint. It was just for PR.” (When informed of Thorne’s comments, Dougie responded: “”What? Are you kidding me? He’s [expletive] lying. A straight lie. I never said that. I know it was blood. Everybody knows it was blood.”)

But the question remains: why do so many folks want to believe, as Cabrera so aptly put it, that Curt wasn’t really bleeding on the mound? Why do people want to think it was ink or ketchup or anything but blood? Is it because faking a bit of grandeur seems like the kind of thing the loquacious righthander would do? He doesn’t exactly shy away from the spotlight, nor does he hesitate to self-promote (Curt the vintner, Curt the gamer, Curt the philanthropist, Curt Curt Curt!). But even in that case, Curt, like Holly Golightly, may be a phony, but he’s a real phony. That is to say, if Curt Schilling were going to fake a bloody sock, he would probably just stab himself in the leg.

Nevertheless, Baltimore Sun columnist Laura Vecsey has suggested that the red splotch was fake (what is it with the Baltimore press and the Red Sox? I thought ragging on the team was our job). A GQ article once claimed the same thing, using an unnamed clubhouse source. But Jon Heyman, who has made no secret of his disdain for the pompous stopper (“The man never met a camera he didn’t love”), wrote that “There’s no real reason to doubt the blood.” Even if you concede the veracity of the blood, some still suggest that Curt Schilling kept re-trying his shoelaces during the game to draw attention to the sock and the mysterious red substance seeping through it, while still others have accused Schilling of “waving the bloody sock.” To be fair, for all that we like to poke fun at Curt for chasing the cameras, there’s a certain amount of press that seems to follow Schilling wherever he goes. And if we mock players for talking too much to the press and rag on the players who avoid the press and and never have anything to write about the players who talk but just say boring stuff, well, that makes us nattering nabobs more than a little hypocritical.

And if you still doubt that the pain—and the bleeding—were real, take a gander at this:

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